D&D General Are Hit Points Meat? (Redux): D&D Co-Creator Saw Hit Points Very Differently

D&D co-creator Dave Arneson wasn't a fan of hit points increasing with level. According to the excellent Jon Peterson's Playing at the World he felt that hit points should be fixed at character creation, with characters becoming harder to hit at higher levels.

Of course, this is an early example of the oft-lengthily and vehemently discussed question best summarised as ‘Are hit points meat?’— a debate which has raged for over 40 years and isn’t likely to be resolved today! (but no they’re not)


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Arneson later created a hit point equation in his 1979 RPG Adventures in Fantasy which was a game in which he hoped to correct "the many errors in the original rules".

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Russ Morrissey

Russ Morrissey

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen (She/Her/Hers)
True, but that's not my point.

My point is that "a tiny scratch" represents meat.
So? The loss of hit points doesn’t have to represent the tiny scratch. It could represent the expenditure of energy, good fortune, divine favor, or whatever, that allowed you to avoid getting that tiny scratch, which might otherwise have killed you. Whereas, a weapon that is not poisoned doesn’t take as much energy, good fortune, divine favor, or whatever to avoid taking a potentially lethal blow from, since it takes a lot more than a tiny scratch from such a weapon to be potentially lethal.
 

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Ravenbrook

Explorer
I would think that luck is represented by a character's saving throw. I find it very annoying that a high-levvel fighter can stand straight in the blast of an adult dragon's breath weapon and survive despite failing the saving throw. Not only that, but the character can then go on fighting without suffering from any penalties.
 

Mercurius

Legend
Given the numbers involved, especially in WotC editions, there's no way that HP accurately represent meat only, and that's pretty much been the case since the beginning, even more so so in recent editions. It is a false controversy, or rather one only in the minds of those who try to cram everything into a "simulationist" paradigm.

The whole system is based upon it being an abstraction. If you wanted to make HP into meat only, then you'd have to change the core game substantially. For instance, you'd probably have to split AC into Damage Reduction (armor) and Defense (something akin to Reflex in 4E), with "Meat Points" being a combination of CON, STR, maybe a racial modifier, and then a Size multiple.

It wouldn't be impossible to use an optional system, but would take some finessing, and avoiding damage would be the name of the game, whether through having a high Defense and/or good armor (DR).
 

Lyxen

Great Old One
I would think that luck is represented by a character's saving throw. I find it very annoying that a high-levvel fighter can stand straight in the blast of an adult dragon's breath weapon and survive despite failing the saving throw. Not only that, but the character can then go on fighting without suffering from any penalties.

It's in the save, but it is clearly in the fact of not being hit, just as training, the will to live or divine favor are also possibly in the saving throw. It being in one does not preclude it being in the other.
 

Lyxen

Great Old One
So? The loss of hit points doesn’t have to represent the tiny scratch. It could represent the expenditure of energy, good fortune, divine favor, or whatever, that allowed you to avoid getting that tiny scratch, which might otherwise have killed you. Whereas, a weapon that is not poisoned doesn’t take as much energy, good fortune, divine favor, or whatever to avoid taking a potentially lethal blow from, since it takes a lot more than a tiny scratch from such a weapon to be potentially lethal.

I completely agree, it also allows for the necessary flexibility to describe the loss of hit points from very various sources on very different individuals, from the muscle/meat bag to the wiry thief or priest.
 


GreyLord

Legend
Was Arneson's Adventures in Fantasy also using a 3-18 bell curve to generate stats? If yes, then most characters wouldn't be able to take a solid blow from anything.

Example: let's be generous and assume that on a 3-18 curve the character has 15-15-15 on those three stats. So, rounding up as suggested, 15/2 = 8, 15/3 = 5, and 15/4 = 4. In the next step, 8 + 5 + 4 = 17; dividing that by 5 gives 3.4, which rounds up to 4 if the round-up suggestion is to be taken to the full.

Something is very amiss here...

It's because, I believe Hit points also meant something slightly different. Instead of having variable damage, it all did one point of damage. Thus, if you had 3 hitpoints it means you could take 3 hits and then you would be down and out.
 

Lyxen

Great Old One
Nah, the real world doesn't have hit points. They don't simulate real life in any way whatsoever.
That's the important point. One could argue that "meat hit point" like the ones from Runequest want to simulate normal life (they are I think correctly based on size as well as constitution). But D&D's hit points simulate heroic fantasy and even high fantasy, the books/movies/shows of the genre where the heroes continue to fight at full capacity until knocked down, and even that is extremely rarely fatal, despite looking deadly almost every time. Not realistic in the slightest.
 

After 30+ years of gaming I've never been able to reconcile hit points and what they actually mean. If it's just narrative luck points then how does healing work? It just recharges your luck points. If getting stabbed for 1d4 damage the equivalent of me being stabbed in the real world? i.e. Does it leave a bleeding wound? I stopped asking these questions long ago because I could never find a satisfactory answer.
I'm mostly in the same position, except for being too stubborn to fully stop being annoyed by them :).
To be fair: up to 3e I was fine with treating them as meat points in the action hero sense ("it's just a flesh wound").
 

Ravenbrook

Explorer
It's because, I believe Hit points also meant something slightly different. Instead of having variable damage, it all did one point of damage. Thus, if you had 3 hitpoints it means you could take 3 hits and then you would be down and out.
That's interesting because it seems to be a similar concept as in Savage Worlds.
 

LoganRan

Explorer
"Each character has a varying number of hit points, just as monsters do. These hit points represent how much damage (actual or potential) the character can withstand before being killed. A certain amount of these hit points represent the actual physical punishment which can be sustained. The remainder, a significant portion of hit points at higher levels, stands for skill, luck and/or magical factors."

Gary Gygax, 1st Edition AD&D Player's Handbook, pg. 34
 

Lyxen

Great Old One
"Each character has a varying number of hit points, just as monsters do. These hit points represent how much damage (actual or potential) the character can withstand before being killed. A certain amount of these hit points represent the actual physical punishment which can be sustained. The remainder, a significant portion of hit points at higher levels, stands for skill, luck and/or magical factors."

Gary Gygax, 1st Edition AD&D Player's Handbook, pg. 34

And after this, you can like it or not, but for me it was really innovative, and allowed the simulation of the high fantasy genre which is not about meat, but more cinematics.
 


aco175

Legend
Nah, the real world doesn't have hit points. They don't simulate real life in any way whatsoever.
It does seem more like WWE American Wrestling where the hero can be beat on for 10 minutes and appears near dead laying on the mat after being beat with a chair- only to hear the chant of the crowd and draw upon his inner reserves to shake off the damage and rise to finish off the BBEG with a super-cool stunt.
 

Whilst I really don't need D&D to simulate realistic injury, I have to say that the recent editions have gotten a tad too gamey for my liking. I find it super jarring that it is literally impossible to be hurt so badly that you wouldn't be perfectly fine the next day! I use a bit modified gritty rests and healing kit dependency, and whilst far from realistic it seems more suitable for my somewhat fragile disbelief suspenders.

As for character resilience being measured by increased chance of defending instead of some sort of depleting resource like hit points, that results very different experience, even if on average the odds of survival would be the same. Latter is definitely less like the real life, but it can be argued to be better for a game, as it makes things more predictable and lets players make more informed tactical choices.
 

DEFCON 1

Legend
Supporter
I just accept that all of this stuff is purely to create a game to play and everything is in service to the game (with only a small handwave towards the fiction that is layered on top of the game.)

The fact you could take the Attack rolls / damage rolls / AC / HP and reskin them all to create a Social Combat system that works just the same (if the game cared about having rules for determining the "winner" of philosophical debate) shows us that the fiction isn't the important part for all of this existing-- it's the attack roll / AC into damage roll / HP dance of the game rules is what matters.

Getting too concerned about the story not layering perfectly over the game rules kind of misses the point I think.
 


Zubatcarteira

Now you're infected by the Musical Doodle
I personally find the luck points idea pretty silly, and some things you just can't really evade with only skill and experience, so meat is certainly a factor, although everyone just being super durable also doesn't quite work in a lot of ways (you can survive a meteor to the face, but a few hundred arrows will kill you anyway).
 

After 30+ years of gaming I've never been able to reconcile hit points and what they actually mean. If it's just narrative luck points then how does healing work? It just recharges your luck points. If getting stabbed for 1d4 damage the equivalent of me being stabbed in the real world? i.e. Does it leave a bleeding wound? I stopped asking these questions long ago because I could never find a satisfactory answer.

I reckon it as that Hit points aren't just one thing, they're a combination of several things, since they're an abstraction of how much injury or trauma someone can withstand.

They're partly "meat", that's why you can get extra ones from high CON scores.

They're partly exhaustion and fatigue, that's why you can recover some from resting overnight, far faster than you could if it was a serious injury.

They're partly heroic luck, which is most of why you get more at each level.

Magical healing heals the "meat" injuries and relieves the exhaustion. . .and is to an extent also a divine blessing that restores that intangible heroic luck.
 

Anyone more versed in old school D&D able to tell me what "you take 9 hits (but you could take as many as 36 hits)" means?

I think that means you take 9d4 damage. . .between 9 and 36 points. Old D&D books weren't very good about spelling out actually how many dice were to be rolled, and would often list the minimum and maximum amount of the roll and you had to figure out what the dice would actually be.
 

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